December 14, 2018

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September Jobs Report: Here’s What to Watch For

September Jobs Report: Here’s What to Watch For
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“The big question is how much of an influence is Florence going to have,” said Dan North, chief economist for North America at Euler Hermes, an insurer. “People were evacuating, so people weren’t on the payrolls. We’re talking about a pretty large swath of population there.”

Friday’s report is one of the last major economic releases before the midterm elections in November. The next round of jobs data will come four days before Election Day, by which point most voters’ minds may be made up.

Republicans are counting on the strong economy to help hold off a potential “blue wave” of Democratic victories in the House and Senate. President Trump has repeatedly played up the low unemployment rate as evidence that his policies are working. It isn’t clear, however, that economic data will have much effect at the polls. Surveys show that views of the economy are split along partisan lines, with Democrats and even many independents expressing less optimism than Republicans.

Economists will also be watching Friday’s report for any sign that Mr. Trump’s tariffs are hurting the economy. Many companies have expressed concern about the president’s trade policies, but there have been few concrete signs of damage so far. Manufacturing employment fell slightly in August, but many economists suspect the drop was a blip; other measures of that industry have been strong.

“We’re still seeing pretty decent hiring in manufacturing,” said Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at the career site Glassdoor. “Tariffs have been talked about for months, but the real economic impact is just starting to be felt now.”

Beyond the headline jobs figures, one number that will get particular attention from economists this month will be the labor force participation rate. It’s an important way to answer a crucial question: How many workers are left on the sidelines?

The unemployment rate, by most economists’ estimation, is about as low as it can get. But the official definition of “unemployment” includes only people who are actively looking for work and available to start right away. Recent job growth has come in part from the larger pool of workers who wanted to work — or were willing to work under the right conditions — but weren’t actively searching. But no one is sure how many of those people are left.

If there is a rise in the labor force participation rate — the share of adults who are working or actively looking for work — that would be a sign that there are still more people available to come into the job market. But if it falls, that could mean the reserve of potential workers is nearly tapped. Lately, it has been more or less flat, as people entering the labor force are offset by retiring baby boomers.



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